Ira Shapiro, an international trade lawyer in Washington, D.C., held senior staff positions in the U.S. Senate and served as General Counsel and Ambassador in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during the Clinton administration. The Last Great Senate reflects his passion for the Senate going back more than 40 years.
Ira came to work as a summer intern for Senator Jacob Javits, the liberal Republican from New York, in June 1969, after graduating from Brandeis University. He was on his way to Berkeley to graduate school on a National Science Foundation fellowship to study and ultimately teach political science, but the excitement of working in the Senate persuaded him to change course. After a year at Berkeley, he entered the University of Pennsylvania Law School, with an eye toward returning to work in the Senate. After clerking for a federal judge and a brief stint as a litigation associate at Jenner and Block in Chicago, Ira was hired by Senator Gaylord Nelson, the Wisconsin Democrat, to be his legislative legal counsel, in October 1975.
Ira worked in the Senate for the next twelve years, in a wide range of senior staff positions. When Senator Nelson was tapped by Majority Leader Robert Byrd to chair the special committee created to write a Senate Code of Ethics, Ira, only 29, became the Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Special Committee, which completed its work in April 1977. In 1978, he became Counsel to the Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Abraham Ribicoff, and played a key role in completing legislation dealing with Ethics in Government, establishing control over presidential records, creating Offices of Inspectors General in twelve major government departments, and establishing “flex-time” and expanded part-time professional jobs in the federal government. After a brief stint as Counsel to the Majority Leader, in June 1979, Ira became Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia and Government Efficiency, working for Senator Tom Eagleton. Later that year, he played a key role in enacting legislation which secured the funding for the 101 Metrorail system.
After the 1980 political tsunami, in which Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory to become president, and the Republicans seized the Senate majority, Ira became Minority Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Governmental Affairs Committee. Over the next four years, he became increasingly focused on international trade and the competitive position of the United States, particularly with respect to Japan. In 1984, he took a leave of absence from the Senate to join Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign as Deputy Issue Coordinator. Returning to the Senate after Mondale’s defeat, in January 1985, Ira became Chief of Staff to John D. “Jay” Rockefeller, the newly-elected senator from West Virginia. He worked with Senator Rockefeller for three years, and was deeply involved in the successful effort to rescue and rejuvenate Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, which had faced bankruptcy.
In 1988, Ira entered private law practice, increasingly focused on international trade law and policy. He remained active in Democratic politics, and became an early supporter of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ira was in the group of lawyers who participated in helping Governor Clinton select his Vice Presidential running mate. After Clinton’s election, when Mickey Kantor became the U.S. Trade Representative, he chose Ira to be his General Counsel. In 1993, Ira was deeply involved in the successful negotiations to complete the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round which established the global trade rules and created the World Trade Organization. In 1995, Ira became chief trade negotiator with Japan and Canada, at that time the two largest trading partners of the United States. President Clinton nominated Ira, and the Senate unanimously confirmed him, for the rank of Ambassador. In 1995 and 1996, he was involved in negotiating successful resolution of a series of the most of difficult bilateral trade disputes with Japan, Canada and Russia. In 2000, he was one of the lawyers involved in helping Al Gore select his runningmate.
In 2001, deeply concerned about the direction of the new administration of George W. Bush, Ira ran for Congress in Montgomery County, Maryland, seeking the seat held by Republican Connie Morella. He focused his campaign on Bush’s ill-advised tax cuts and unilateralism in foreign policy. The Democratic primary in which Ira ran included state legislators Chris Van Hollen and Mark Shriver, attracted national attention as the most hotly-contested House race in the country. Seeking office for the first time against better known candidates, Ira combined serious policy proposals with a humorous personal style, in what was described by local political commentators as a “superb campaign” and “the antidote to cynicism” that he had promised to deliver. (Van Hollen won the primary and went on to win the general election.)
From 2001 through 2003, Ira played a key role in helping to complete the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first global treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). Ira advised the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, wrote a major article contending that cigarattes should be treated as an exception to the normal trade rules, and addressed the delegates from more 150 nations in three different sessions.
Since 2003, Ira has been practicing international trade law in Washington, focusing principally on WTO disputes and issues relating to Japan. He has written and spoken extensively on trade issues, including co-authoring chapter on trade policy which appeared in the ”Agenda for the 44th President,” prepared by the Center for American Progress in 2008. He serves on the Board of Advisers of the Brandeis International Business School.
Ira is married to Nancy Sherman Shapiro; they met at Brandeis as undergraduates. They have two children, Susanna and Brian, and two twin grandsons, Jacob and Zev.